When my partner Dane and I first met, I was open with him about my history with depression and anxiety. However, we were dating long distance, and talking about these realities over FaceTime, the phone and during short visits is not the same as dealing with them side by side. I’ll admit that I was nervous, at first, to take that step — to commit to living together and giving up the ability to hide what I thought was my “ugly” side, the parts of myself that I’d sometimes rather not share with the rest of the world.
However, at the same time, I’m a firm believer that the stigma surrounding mental health issues needs to be wiped away. Starting that conversation in our most intimate relationships is the first step. I admitted to Dane that I truly needed help just after we started living together; I’d moved away from my family in California to New York, and the transition was particularly rough on me. I was worried that he might think I’d lost everything he’d loved about me — my ability to be fun and engage, my sense of humor and my ambition — and I was also scared that, in the long run, Dane would take on aspects of my depression.
By opening up to him about how I felt, we were able to talk about how to tackle my depression head on. We discussed what I needed from him, as well as what he needed from me. Though depression is different for everyone, and every relationship has different needs, here are some things we’ve done that have made us stronger while I’ve tended to my mental health.
Be active in your partner’s treatment, whatever treatment they choose
Many people choose therapy and may want their partners to come to appointments with them for support. I’ve found I can’t open up fully with someone sitting in the session, but I’m often so low on energy that just having someone offer to schedule the appointments can make a huge difference.
Exercise is proven to help depression and is something fun and active you can do together. If your partner is up for it, pick a routine that you both look forward to doing. If medication is the right course of action, ask if reminding him or her about the dosage would be helpful or seem overbearing. What is helpful to some might be annoying to others, so make sure to check in.
Whichever treatment he or she decides on, always discuss what level of support they may need, and make sure to check in with yourself about what you’re comfortable with and able to provide.
Take care of yourself
It can be emotionally exhausting to care for someone who is depressed. It does not make you a bad person to need time away from them, and it is truly understandable that you want to keep up with your friends and hobbies. It makes me happy to see Dane enjoy time with his friends, and I would never want to take that away from him just because I’m going through a hard time. At the same time, there are often times when he just knows I need him and chooses to stay in. I appreciate that intuition greatly.
During times when he needs space, if I have the energy to, I often schedule things to do with my own friends. If I’m feeling low on energy, I’ll reach out to my parents or my brother, text some friends from the comfort of home, or plan a night of cuddling my dogs and watching my favorite shows.
Needing to spend time with friends doesn’t mean you love your partner any less, nor does it make you a bad partner. It will actually recharge you and make you better when you return to them. Start some self-care rituals for yourself and you’ll both be healthier for it.
Don’t try to solve their problems
People who are truly, chemically depressed sometimes have great lives on paper. Pointing this out can only make them feel worse, and trying to solve their problems (although it comes with good intentions) is not helpful. Providing a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear is the most loving thing you can do. It is nice to hear Dane say that my feelings are valid, without feeling like I have to explain myself.
It’s helpful to remind your partner that they’ve felt like this before, and although it’s excruciating while it lasts, the feeling does alleviate. For me, when I’ve been seriously depressed, I’ve often felt like I’d never feel normal again, but I always have eventually. Reminders of this can snap me out of the depths of my pain.
Again, everyone is different; some depression cycles are different, with peaks and valleys that vary in frequency and depth. The only way to know what your partner needs is to …
Everyone is different. Some people might be unable to move, and offering to do their errands for them might make a world of difference. Other people need those errands to keep their minds distracted. Some people need to be reminded of all the things they have to live for, other people just want to be held. The only way to truly know is to ask.